July 28, 1915 – Charles Hard Townes born in Greenville, South Carolina, to Ellen (nee Hard), a woman who had taken every course offered by the local women’s college, and Henry Keith Townes, an attorney. His home near the Blue Ridge Mountains provides a wealth of natural beauty and biodiversity that fascinates the young boy.
1935 – Receives Bachelor of Arts in modern languages and Bachelor of Science in physics, summa cum laude, from Furman University, a Baptist college in Greenville, South Carolina.
1937 – Receives Master of Arts in physics from Duke University. After failing to gain scholarship help from Cornell, Princeton, University of Chicago, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, enters graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, paying his own way.
1939 – With a thesis in isotope separation and nuclear spins, receives Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology.
1939-1947 – Joins Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City as a member of the technical staff, working on a variety of problems, including microwave generation, vacuum tubes, and solid-state physics, studying electron emissions from surfaces. During World War II, helps design radar bombing systems. Although not keen on building weapons, the knowledge gained in the study of microwave frequencies generated by radar would prove to be valuable in future research.
1941 – Marries Frances H. Brown, director of activities at International House for graduate students in New York. They have four daughters, Linda, Ellen, Carla and Holly.
1948 – Appointed Associate Professor of Physics at Columbia University, with research focused on microwave spectroscopy at the Columbia Radiation Laboratory, established during the war to study radar.
1949 – Arthur L. Schawlow, who comes to Columbia University on a fellowship, becomes his research assistant. The two will later collaborate on several groundbreaking areas of research (and also become brothers-in-law).
1950 – Appointed Professor of Physics at Columbia University. Named executive director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory, a post he holds until 1952.
1951 – Conceives of amplifying electromagnetic waves by stimulated radiation emission to study of molecular structures and, with associates, coins the word “maser” (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). Similar ideas occur independently to Aleksander Prokhorov and Nikolai Basov at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow.
1952-1955 – Appointed and serves as Chairman of Columbia University’s Physics Department.
1953 – Builds the first maser device, which uses ammonia gas as the active medium, with James P. Gordon and Herbert J. Zeiger at Columbia.
1955 – Microwave Spectroscopy, co-authored with Schawlow, published.
1955-56 – Serves as Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Paris and the University of Tokyo.
1956 – Serves as a Bell Labs consultant on science and technology. Elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
1957 – At Bell Labs, begins working with Schawlow on the principles of a device operable at wavelengths a thousand times shorter than the maser.
1958 – Townes and Schawlow publish “Infrared and Optical Masers” in Physical Review, the journal of the American Physical Society, outlining theory that principles of the maser extend to the optical and infrared regions of the spectrum. The term “laser” (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”) was coined for the device.
1959-61 – On leave from Columbia University, serves as vice-president and director of research for the Institute for Defense Analysis in Washington, D.C.
1960 – Shares patent for laser with Schawlow. First working laser is built by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Aircraft Company using ruby as the amplifying medium and operating at a wavelength of 0.69 microns.
1961 – Appointed Provost and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and begins to exploit the power of the laser by studying nonlinear optics, the behavior of material interacting with very strong beams of radiation.
One year after Dr. Frank Drake and associates launch the first scientific search for radio transmissions from distant solar systems in a search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), proposes searching the optical spectrum for similar indications in “Interstellar and Interplanetary Communication by Optical Masers,” published with R.N. Schwartz in Nature.
1963 – Serves as Director of the Enrico Fermi International School of Physics.
1964 – Shares the Nobel Prize in Physics with Prokhorov and Basov of the Lebedev Institute for “fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle.”
Members of the Riverside Church, known as a bastion of freethinking on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, ask him to speak to the church’s congregation about his thoughts on science and religion. Church members select him because he is one of the few scientists known to them who openly embrace religion and regularly attend church. His appearance would become a watershed event in the movement to understand the relationship of science and religion.
1966 – Appointed Institute Professor at MIT, resigning as Provost to devote more time to research.
“The Convergence of Science and Religion” an article based on his 1964 appearance at Riverside Church, published in Think, Technology Review (the alumni journal of MIT), and other journals. Some in the scientific community react with hostility to the concept that one could be both religiously and scientifically oriented.
1967-1986 – Serves as University Professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley.
1970 – Becomes actively engaged in astrophysics research at UC-Berkeley, developing radio and infrared techniques for studying atoms and molecules in a variety of environments in the Milky Way and other galaxies.
1972 – “How and Why Did it All Begin?” published in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation.
1982 – Serves as chairman of a U.S. Defense Department committee advising the Reagan administration. Successfully recommends against the widespread placement of the MX missile system.
1986 – Appointed University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at the University of California at Berkeley, a post he holds until 1994.
1987 – “Science, values, and beyond,” published in Synthesis of Science and Religion.
1988 – Begins using an array of moveable telescopes for obtaining very high angular resolution of astronomical objects at infrared wavelengths, employing a technique called spatial interferometry.
“On Science, and what it may suggest about us” published in Theological Education, a publication of the Association of Theological Schools.
1990 – “Response to the message of John Paul II” published in John Paul II on Science and Religion: Reflections on the New View from Rome (edited by Robert. Russell, William Stoeger and George Coyne; Vatican Observatory Publications, University of Notre Dame Press).
1991 – Delivers the inaugural lecture, “Reflections on the relations between science and religion,” of the Center for Faith and Science Exchange Program and the Boston Theological Institute, at Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1994 – Appointed Professor in the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley.
1995 – Making Waves (Masters of Modern Physics), published (American Institute of Physics Press).
1997 – Delivers the keynote address, “Do science and religion converge?” at the Second World Congress for the Synthesis of Science and Religion in Calcutta, India. Published in Thoughts on Synthesis of Science and Religion, 2001.
1997 – “Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion” published in Science and Theology: The New Consonance (edited by Ted Peters, Westview Press). “Why are we here; where are we going?” published in The International Community of Physics, Essays on Physics. “Faith and Values in Science and Religion: A Discussion with Professor Charles H. Townes,” published by The Bhaktivedanta Institute (San Francisco).
1998-99 – At a series of workshops convened by the SETI Institute to chart the future of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, scientists embrace Townes’ optical SETI (OSETI) approach, first proposed in 1961. Subsequently, serious and rigorous optical SETI searches are established and continue to operate at the University of California’s Lick Observatory, Harvard, and MIT, among others, in complement to radio searches.
1999 – How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist, published (Oxford University Press).
2001 – “Testing Faith, Wrestling with Mystery,” an interview with Philip Clayton, published in Faith in Science: Scientists search for truth (edited by W. Mark Richardson and Gordy Slack, Routledge).
2002 – Delivers a lecture, “The Convergence of Science and Religion,” at UNESCO meeting in Paris (April) and at the annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, Pepperdine University (August).
Receives the second Frank Drake Award for Innovation by the SETI Institute, in recognition of his origination of OSETI strategies using optics.
2005 – Awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities.